Out-of-body Experiences Debunked

Out-of-body Experiences Debunked

LONDON, Aug. 24 (UPI) — British and other European researchers have found a way to induce out-of-body experiences using virtual reality goggles. The researchers, who used the goggles to mix up sensory signals to the brain, said the studies suggest a scientific explanation for a phenomenon often thought to be a figment of the imagination, the American Association for the Advancement of Science said Friday in a release.

The scientists said the sight of their bodies located somewhere else plus the feel of their real bodies being touched simultaneously made volunteers sense that they had moved outside of their physical bodies. The findings, published in the journal Science, suggest out-of-body experiences may be created by a disconnect between the brain circuits that process certain types of sensory information.

In a study by Henrik Ehrsson of University College London and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, volunteers viewed recorded images through their headsets. In the other study, by Olaf Blanke of the Ecole Polytechique Federale de Lausanne and University Hospital in Switzerland, volunteers saw images of their own bodies from the perspective of someone behind them. The studies said multi-sensory conflict is a key mechanism underlying out-of-body experiences.

Turns out even these experiences are created by our physical brains. No doubt believers and meditators will come up with some other concocted reason to think science is wrong about this. When will the supernaturalist madness end?

Comments (12 comments)

bipolar2 / September 26th, 2007, 8:43 am / #1

. . . and I was working on my religious merit badge in Shamanism.
Time to move on to Trantra . . . now there’s something to believe in.
In-the-body experiences.

Mana / September 26th, 2007, 6:39 pm / #2

This is an awesome experiment. Scientists and especially fighter pilots have known of the classic out of body experience where one sees a tunnel with a light at the end as a result of g-loc. When high g-forces are applied to the body blood flow is reduced to the head, starting with the eyes first, which is why the sensory disconnect. So it’s great to read about a study that approaches sensory disconnect directly.

BlackSun / September 26th, 2007, 10:46 pm / #3

Bipolar2, I’m all for in-the-body experiences!

Mana, I never heard about the pilot study. That’s fascinating.

Mana / September 27th, 2007, 8:54 am / #4

I committed a cardinal sin and forgot to give the resource on g-LOC. Here is a decent review.

Reality Handbook / September 29th, 2007, 1:31 pm / #5

I’m sure many atheists denied that anyone ever experienced an out-of-body experience. Now they might concede “ok, it happened, you weren’t making it up… BUT it didn’t mean what you thought it meant!” I think many scientists tend to marginalize the significance of that shift. There is a big difference between being right all along, and merely being willing to change your opinion if new evidence comes to light! It’s no justification for cruelty or dismissal in the meantime.

So I think you should be more cautious of statements like “when will the supernaturalist madness end?” Some of those you are labeling were the ones who stuck to their guns: they bravely reported the facts of what they saw and experienced in OBEs, and didn’t recant merely for fear of being labeled “mad”. They gave the data to help motivate the experimentation, and this is a step toward bridging those experiences with existing peer-reviewed research.

Long live the scientific method: cornerstone of intellectual growth and best-known compass of reality. But death to fundamentalism… on both sides of this kind of debate… we have tons still to learn! Who knows what other findings will surprise science and bolster the accounts of some aspects of “supernaturalist” experience?

I’ll add that being certain that every experience is explained by “the physical brain” seems parallel with a turn-of-the-century scientist studying a modern computer. Knowing what he does about electrical conductivity, he might trace the internal circuits and start mapping out the machine. As he delves, he’ll discover the entire field of semiconductor science, magnetic storage; marveling at how tiny things get and the millions of transistors he finds when he breaks the chip apart.

In fact, he can be so overwhelmed by the intricate and magical beauty of this new field that he might ridicule those who invoke “invisible magic wires” to explain the computer. Not a single invisible wire need be invoked to explain the entire operation of The Sims… there is no camera in some remote place taking pictures of people and beaming it to the laptop!

But there could be! Because even for all his amazing findings, his assumption is wrong: there *are* invisible magic wires…he’s merely yet to discover the 802.11g technology integrated into the Centrino chip and exactly what role it plays in the overall system. Precisely how much his explanation fails depends on what programs he runs–if he sticks to spreadsheets and Solitaire, then the invisible magic wire won’t be relevant at all. But if he happens to run a web browser, then questions his model can’t answer start to mount up…

Aaron / September 29th, 2007, 4:48 pm / #6

I believed in OBEs and NDEs for years, defending them to the hilt. It was only about 3 years ago that I recanted. I went to a IANDS meeting where I discussed OBEs with a researcher. He told me that he had a zillion people come forward and claim to be able to see accurate details OOB. But whenever they were tested, they could not do what they claimed to do. He asked me to devise a creative way to test OBE’s. I thought for about 3 seconds before realizing that a 5 year old can devide a test for OBE’s if ya can’t see shit, ya can’t see shit. How hard is it?

The neuroscience study where stimulating the angular gyrus caused OBEs was convincing. It’s the brain. And nobody sees OOB accurately because nobody *is* OOB.

BlackSun / September 29th, 2007, 7:56 pm / #7

@Reality Handbook:

But death to fundamentalism… on both sides of this kind of debate…

There is no debate. It is up to those who want to prove OBEs to do so. Now we’ve come up with a very strong counter example showing brain-generated OBEs, and the supernaturalists have nothing new. Put up or shut up.

It is not enough to say “we can’t prove X doesn’t exist.” If you want to refute existing theory, you have to propose a better one. If anyone could come up with a testable theory for OBEs, they’d be a shoe-in for the Nobel prize. How about it?

Saying “you can’t prove there aren’t OBEs, you can’t prove these people’s experiences aren’t real” puts you squarely in Flying Spaghetti Monster territory.

@Aaron, exactly.

Reality Handbook / September 30th, 2007, 7:10 am / #8


Flying Spaghetti Monster is an amusing humorous challenge to dumb religious zealotry. But please spare me the comparison, as nothing in my comment suggests I am a dumb religious zealot.

You yourself quoted the portion of the article which said: “the studies suggest a scientific explanation for a phenomenon often thought to be a figment of the imagination”. In light of this experiment, certainly you must agree that the firsthand testimony of OBEs (unedited and removed of fanciful extrapolation) are a resource in helping determine the map of the mind. If that is the case, then you must also concede that past antagonism toward those giving OBE accounts as “made up” and suggesting that those reporting them should be silenced or mocked are a hindrance to scientific inquiry.

My point is as simple as that, and stands as written. No need to invoke the Nobel Prize or Godwin’s Law. I’ve never had an OBE, but my axe to grind is more with lucid dreaming. Those who don’t experience it often assume it’s made up, and it’s only been since the 70s that trained dreamers and lab researchers have been able to “prove” it’s real. But prior to that there was tons of denial and skepticism, despite centuries of firsthand accounts from intelligent and articulate people.

Science–because of its willingness to adapt in the face of incontrovertible evidence–will catch up eventually, no matter how the odds are stacked. I’m sure we agree on this. But why does it need to take so long, and why do so many people have to suffer divisiveness and stigma in the interim? Not necessary, IMO. If we treat firsthand accounts with respect for diversity of experience–however heretical–we have a data mine from which we build stronger theories. Then everyone wins.

BlackSun / September 30th, 2007, 10:03 am / #9

Reality Handbook,

nothing in my comment suggests I am a dumb religious zealot.

Except you are using similar rhetoric to argue for things that cannot be proven. What I object to is the proposition that we should give any credence whatsoever (without concrete evidence) to the idea that somehow people can travel outside of their body with some kind of conscious awareness. As the article explained, the subjective experience of being outside of one’s body can now be shown to be a brain-generated phenomenon.

Let me ask you a question: When you say “real” what do you mean? For lucid dreaming to be “real” what would have to be true?

Again, ALL conscious (subjective) experience represents a brain-based phenomenon until proven otherwise. No one has come up with a shred of evidence that suggests that when people are lucid dreaming they are actually present in actual scenarios which are taking place outside of their physical location (asleep, in bed).

Lucid dreaming can be a perfectly “real” phenomenon and yet be confined to people’s brains. It needs no supernatural explanation. I think the article was inaccurate when it talked about OBEs having been thought of as being a “figment of someone’s imagination.” In fact that’s exactly what these experiences have now been proven to be. What is imagination? The ability of the brain to formulate scenarios which do not exist in the real world to model potential or desired situations. Dreams can be looked at as a composite of memories and imagination, running simulations of events that often bear odd juxtapositions which could not exist in the real world. They have some utility in the investigation of the unconscious and the sorting of information and the formation of long-term memories. But those who make supernatural claims for both lucid dreaming and OBEs really might as well be talking about the flying spaghetti monster unless they can bring some evidence for their ontological status to the table.

You advocate giving credence to people’s testimony. But when someone is in a dream state, they might as well be on an LSD trip. They have not only lost all reference points to objective reality, (their bodily senses are shut down), their ability to make and keep reliable memories is also severely impaired. So the only way to truly investigate such claims would be either in a sleep-laboratory using EEG or other brain monitoring equipment (such as fMRI), or through brain simulation using powerful computers to mimic the effects.

Occam’s razor prohibits us from entertaining the idea of a supernatural explanation until we have fully exhausted natural sources for the phenomenon. It’s not just that we have no evidence for the supernatural, we can’t even agree on what would constitute such evidence. So getting bent out of shape that people’s “testimony” is being ridiculed or rejected is not a scientific position.

rho / July 16th, 2008, 10:38 am / #10

Keep this in mind when invoking Occam’s razor: at one point, it might very well have been used to reject the idea of a spherical Earth.

BlackSun / July 16th, 2008, 10:54 am / #11


Occam’s razor is simply a tool in the kit, and must be used along with empirical methods. It is not in and of itself the end-all of the scientific method. It’s just a guide. It says “use the simplest explanation (theory) that fits the data.”

So if you wanted to scientifically reject the idea of a spherical Earth, you’d still have to do the empirical work.

mindash / August 31st, 2008, 6:14 pm / #12

i just see OOBE’s as lucid dreams and dont believe they can be relied upon for ideas such as remote viewing ect, but i can say that i have conducted some of my own experiments and have come to the conclusion that there is a kind of phenominon that occurs where one may percieve to be out of body but theres no way to argue its nothing more than a realistic dream, opiate based drugs seem to help facilitate the state which allows such experiences to happen starting out as sleep paralysis then moving into full blown lucidity. ill report back more should i gain any further info but i still think this paradigm of thinking is just something that is misunderstood insofar

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